Written by Kelsey Maguire
The Surf Channel had the pleasure of talking to Huntington Beach hero-in-red, Todd Bartlett, during the US Open of Surfing 2012. A Marine Safety Officer, Todd has been a Huntington Beach lifeguard for over 30 years. He grew up in Huntington and participated in the Junior Lifeguarding program at 8 years old.
In my opinion, Todd landed himself one of the best jobs in the entire world. However, working the beach during the US Open of Surfing can be both challenging and super exciting. As a lifeguard, Todd has been keeping the beach safe for decades and had some incredible, and frightening, experiences to share.
“I get paid to surf,” Todd bragged, his favorite parts of the job. Over the years, Todd has had the opportunity to watch Courtney Conlogue, Timmy Turner and Brett Simpson grow as surfers.
“You just knew there was something special about all three of them. They are not only good surfers, but they are good people, too.” He has been watching these superstars from day one as little groms, surfing every morning at the local surf school. Now, he watches them compete as professional surfers battling for the US Open of Surfing championship title.
One of Bartlett’s favorite memories took place two years ago while on duty as a lifeguard at the US Open of Surfing 2010. The swell was extremely high, and the lifeguards and surfers were debating whether or not to utilize the wave runners. Some of Todd’s favorite surfers, including Peter Miller and Sally Fitzgibbons, approached him to ask for advice. He was stoked for any excuse to meet some of his idols.
However, lifeguarding is not all fun and games. Todd says the most difficult part of the job is staying focused throughout the twelve-hour shifts, especially with all of the distractions during the US Open, when over 700,000 fans dig their feet into the sand over the competition week. This huge event also attracts hundreds of non-swimmers and party animals who make their way into the ocean, and potential liabilities. Lifeguards have to pay special attention to these individuals.
Spending all day, every day at the beach is a sweet gig but could get very exhausting. This career is draining both physical and mentally. Surf conditions are constantly changing and these guards need to be prepared for the worst.
“Mother nature always wins. Just when you think you know everything, it teaches you a new lesson.” Preparing and preventing is Todd’s motto. These lifeguards always have to have their eyes on the water. Todd is relieved when surfers are in the water, because they help lifeguards keep the ocean safe.
“Surfers keep inexperienced swimmers closer to shore.” When surfers are not out in the ocean, swimmers can get sucked out to sea by rip currents.
One of the tasks that Todd definitely does not look forward to is called, “black balling.” This is when the guards put up a yellow flag with a black dot at their tower, meaning that surfing is momentarily prohibited in that area. Lifeguards are encouraged to put this up when too many swimmers are present, in attempts to prevent accidents from occuring.
The physical training and rescuing comes easier for experienced guards like Todd. Beach guards need to be in top shape to stay in the field. Daily workouts are geared toward ocean conditions. If there is a swell, guards with go out to body surf or jump off the pier. However, if conditions are flat, lifeguards head to the classroom to practice their CPR skills and learn new material.
The Surf Channel and all of us beach-goers would like to thank you, Todd, and lifeguards everywhere.